Jesusa is a tough, fiery character based on a real working-class Mexican woman whose life spanned some of the seminal events of early twentieth-century Mexican history. Having joined a cavalry unit during the Mexican Revolution, she finds herself at the Revolution's end in Mexico City, far from her native Oaxaca, abandoned by her husband and working menial jobs. So begins Jesusa's long history of encounters with the police and struggles against authority. Mystical yet practical, undaunted by hardship, Jesusa faces the obstacles in her path with gritty determination.
Here in its first English translation, Elena Poniatowska's rich, sensitive, and compelling blend of documentary and fiction provides a unique perspective on history and the place of women in twentieth-century Mexico.
In this stunning biographical novel, acclaimed Mexican writer Poniatowska gives voice to one of her country's humblest citizens, an eighty-seven-year-old laundry maid named Jesusa Palancares de Aguilar. Beginning with her mother's untimely death, Jesusa recounts a lifetime of wanderings from town to town, as she takes a variety of jobs, including a factory worker and a dance hall matron. Underlying the episodic plot is the author's concern for Mexico's dispossessed, men and women who must continually reinvent themselves in order to survive. Poniatowska spent several years interviewing the real-life Jesusa in Mexico City, where the author first gained an understanding of "real poverty." But this novel is far from exploitative; Jesusa remains self-sufficient and dignified to the very end. Devoid of self-pity, the laundry maid declares, "You have to pay for everything during this lifetime." For the first time since its publication in 1969, Heikkinen has translated this important work into English, recapturing the gruff, plainspoken beauty of Jesusa's speech and the resilience of her spirit.